COP15 – Dec 10, 2009 – The Strength of Youth

The number of people in Bella Center is increasing. My collection of documents has grown to the point that I will not be able to carry all of it to Belgium. It is easy to be overwhelmed by the complexity of issues and to drown in all that is on offer, without really touching the essentials. Veterans of the COP meetings advise to keep a focus and to stick to some reliable sources of information, such as CAN . Personally, of course, I am interested in the religious dimensions of this whole process … but here, I feel frustrated. Religion is only marginally present in the Bella Center. There is a group that refers to a Supreme Master; it is very vocal at the entrance of the Center, but is not precisely my cup of tea. Someone told me today that he thought religion should be more visible, particularly through statements of its leadership: “you do not really market your product, Father, and it is a good product that could be put to good use here.” There is a challenge … Of course, I know that religions are speaking and that at grassroot level many Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus and others are passionately committed to environmental issues, to the point of giving their lives. But, are we really present amongst those who are governing our world and making the important decisions?

Today, I decided to join the side events concerning youth and young people. The climate change crisis is of particular importance to them. On their orange T-shirts (paid for by the Dutch government), one can read: what will be your age in 2050? In the meetings I attended, young people were well aware of their creativity and energy, and they asked to be taken seriously. Politicians and negotiators, amongst whom Yvo De Boer of UNFCCC, challenge them to exercise even more pressure than they do now and to engage in politics. These young people know that they will have to change their lifestyles, that the world in which they live today will have changed profoundly by 2050. They also have a much more global sense than people of my generation: the earth is their home, they have friends all over the globe, and they are using all the means available to communicate globally – some of them continue to talk and listen to their computers (they use SKYPE) while they are walking in the corridors. This is refreshing in a context where nationalities and country boundaries dominate the discussions.

There was an interesting contribution by Tracy Bach, a Vermont professor of law, on intergenerational equity and justice. She referred to Edith Brown Weiss’ 1989 book “In Fairness to Future Generations” to point out three criteria to be included in lawmaking: keep open the options for future generations, preserve the quality of the world to be passed on to next generations, and secure equal access to public resources. However, in my eyes, the most interesting contribution came from Aman Jain, the president of an international student association, AIESEC. He was dynamic, enthusiastic, challenging and clear in his presentation and he stressed the importance of leadership, political action and commitment in an intergenerational perspective.

These young people and their commitment represent a great contribution and asset to COP15. As the indigenous people, to whose voices I paid attention yesterday, the young people know their future is at stake, they are willing to commit to change matters for the best, and they offer new perspectives and approaches. Both these groups give me hope and strength. I want to work with them. Karl Rahner spoke in a Christmas homily about “die ewige Jugend Gottes” (the neverending, eternal youth of God); I felt something of that today.

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